09 April 2024

The Difference of One Tempo

Yesterday, I reached a clearly winning pawn ending and blew it. My opponent then returned the favor and gave me the victory. Our errors have some instructive value. There is a difference of one tempo between the position reached in the game and the position that it might have reached.

White to move
After 58...Kxh4
White is winning.

White to move
Possible position after 57...Kxh4
Black can hold the draw.

Let's examine the ending and the errors.

White to move
After 47...Ke6
48.Ke4??

Correct was 48.Kc4, when after 48...Kxf6 49.Kb5 Ke7 50.Kxa5 Kd7 51.Kb5 Kc7 52.Kc5 Kb7 53.Kd5 Kb6 54.Ke5 Ka5 55.Kf5 Kxa4

White to move
Analysis diagram

Black's king is too far from the h-file to prevent White's pawn from promoting. Had I played the correct 48.Kc4, this would have been the result. After my move, the game was equal until Black missed a critical move.

48...Kxf6 49.Kf4 Kg6 50.Ke5 Kg7 51.Kf5 Kh6 52.Kf6 Kh7 53.Kg5 Kg7 54.Kxh5

Black to move

It is clear that White will abandon the h-pawn and attempt to promote the a-pawn. What matters most is whether Black's king will be close enough to either trap White's king in front of its pawn or occupy a8.

54...Kh7??

54...Kf6 was the drawing move. After 55.Kg4 Kg6 56.Kf4 Kh5 57.Ke5 Kxh4, the second position at the top of the post is reached. Black's king will be able to occupy a8 or trap the White king on the a-file if it prevents this.

Instead, in the game continuation, White's king was one square further towards the queenside when Black played Kxh4. This square, a one tempo difference, was the difference in the game.

55.Kg5 Kg7 56.Kf5 Kh6 57.Ke5 Kh5 58.Kd5 Kxh4

We reach the position at the top of the post.

Black resigned after the subsequent moves: 59.Kc5 Kg5 60.Kb5 Kf5 61.Kxa5 Ke6 62.Kb6 Kd6 63.Kb7 Kc5 64.a5 Kb5 65.a6

White's king assures the pawn's safety.




28 March 2024

Cutting Off

Young chess players are quick to attack pieces directly. Learning to anticipate the opponent's plans and prevent them does not come naturally. In my experience, young beginning players must be shown this simple mate in two many times before the idea of cutting off sinks in.

White to move
It is an ancient exercise that I first recall seeing and beginning to use with students while perusing Bruce Pandolfini, Pandolfini's Endgame Course. With a group of students who are finishing the Pawn Award and beginning to work towards the Knight Award, I prefaced this position with two others from this week's online play.

These positions are more difficult for beginners, so we spent some time on them.

Black to move
Facing a threat to my a-pawn that would upset the material equilibrium, I confined White's king to the first rank with a checkmate threat.

43...Bg3

White failed to find the most stubborn defense, played 44.Rd6? and resigned while I was contemplating how to remove the rook. After 44.Re8+ Kh7 45.Rf8, there is no checkmate threat. Nonetheless, Black is winning a pawn after 45...Rd3 46.Kf1 (46.Rf3 Rxf3 47.gxf3 Be5 is worse, and White's a-pawn still falls) 46...Rxa3.

The second illustration shows the same cutting off idea with a piece on g3, although Black had many ways of winning.

Black to move
24...Qg3 (24...f4 is best) 25.Rf1 Re1 26.Qc4 Rxf1 27.Qxf1 Re1 and White resigned.

My intent was to show these two positions from recent online play, then have the students solve the mate in two from Pandolfini. Hopefully, the idea of restricting the opponent's choices, rather than direct and often futile checks, will sink in.

Continuing the theme of cutting off, I found several instructive exercises in László Polgár, Chess Endgames. This study by Nikolai Antonovich Kopaev was the first.

White to move
White must find a sequence of "only" moves. Alternatives draw. This exercise and those that follow in Polgár's massive book build endgame technique.



27 March 2024

64 Endgame Books

It has been a goal of mine to acquire 64 endgame books before I reach the age of 64. That birthday comes soon and I need one more. What shall I add to my existing collection? Will it gather dust on the shelf, or will it be one that I read?
The main shelf

The category of "endgame books" is not perfectly clear. Do works on checkmate patterns fall into this group? I keep those books separate, although checkmate exercises were called "end-games" in nineteenth century chess periodicals and books. I do include studies, although some would put these in a separate category.

There are some classics on my shelves and some books published in the past two months. Most are paperbacks, but there are a few hardcover. Missing from my shelves are four of the five volumes of Encyclopedia of Chess Endings published by Chess Informant. Last summer, seven of the eight volume series edited by Yuri Averbakh were added. I have had the volume on rook endings for several years. In the months since, I've spent some time working through the early chapters on bishop endings.
Part of a second shelf is needed

For decades, the only endgame book in my possession was Irving Chernev, Practical Chess Endings, which I purchased at B. Dalton in downtown Spokane in the 1970s as a high school student. In the mid-1990s, as I was getting back into chess with some seriousness of purpose, I bought a copy of Jenö Bán, The Tactics of Endgames. Even then, my study focus remained largely openings and tactics.

In the twenty-first century, two books provoked serious study of endgames on my part. First, Karsten Mūller and Frank Lamprecht, Fundamental Chess Endings, published in 2001 and acquired that year. Then with purchase of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual shortly after it was published in 2003, I began to both work on and enjoy endgame study. When I started studying Dvoretsky, I was USCF C Class. Today, it is often suggested that Dvoretsky is too hard for a class player, who should begin with Silman's Complete Endgame Course. Waiting four years for Silman would have deprived me of many hours of productive study. In any case, I rarely read a chess book cover-to-cover. Dvoretsky improved my game (see "Ten Books to Achieve 1800+").

Sometime before then, I had acquired Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings, but I always found this book difficult to use with too few diagrams and small print lacking sufficient paragraph breaks. Even so, it was a reference I turned to often when a specific question arose.

As the number of volumes slowly increased, I became a collector, still favoring those that I think I'll read.

The newest book in my collection was published this year and is a reprint, edited with a light hand, of one of the oldest endgame books in existence. Carsten Hansen brought Horwitz and Kling, Chess Studies and Endgames (1851) back into print as part of his Alexander Game Books Classics series.

Endgame Bibliography

Aagaard, Jacob. Excelling At Technical Chess: Learn to Identify and Exploit Small Advantages. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2004.

_______. A Matter of Endgame Technique. Grandmaster Knowledge. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2022.

_______. Conceptual Rook Endgames. Grandmaster Knowledge. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2023.

Averbakh, Yuri, and I. Maizelis. Pawn Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1974.

Averbakh, Yuri. Queen and Pawn Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1975.

_______. Bishop v. Knight Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1976.

_______. Bishop Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. London: Batsford, 1977.

_______, and Vitaly Chekhover. Knight Endings, trans. Mary Lasher. London: Batsford, 1977.

Averbakh, Yuri. Rook v. Minor Piece Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1978.

_______, V. Chekhover, and V. Henkin. Queen v. Rook/Minor Piece Endings, trans. K. P. Neat. London: Batsford, 1978.

Averbakh, Yuri. Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge, new algebraic edition. London: Everyman Chess, [1971] 1993.

Bán, Jenö. The Tactics of Endgames. Mineola: Dover, [1963] 1997.

Barden, Leonard. How to Play the Endgame in Chess. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Bezgodov, Alexey. Opposite-Colored Bishop Endings: 174 Master Classes. Elk and Ruby, 2024.

Missing from the shelves because I’m reading it

Chernev, Irving. Practical Chess Endings. New York: Dover, 1961.

_______. Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings: 60 Complete Games.  New York: Dover, 1978.

_______. 200 Brilliant Endgames.  New York: Fireside, 1989.

Donaldson, John. Essential Chess Endings for Advanced Players. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1995.

De la Villa, Jesus. 100 Endgames You Must Know: Vital Lessons for Every Chess Player. 4th ed. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2015.

_______. The 100 Endgames You Must Know Workbook: Practical Endgame Lessons for Every Chess Player. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2019.

_______. 100 Endgame Patterns You Must Know: Recognize Key Moves & Motifs and Avoid Typical Errors. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2021.

Dvoretsky, Mark. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2003.

_______. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, 5th ed. Rev. by Karsten Mūller. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2020.

Emms, John. Starting Out: Minor Piece Endgames. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2004.

Fine, Reuben. Basic Chess Endings. New York: David McKay, [1941] 1969.

Fishbein, Alex. King and Pawn Endings. Macon, GA: American Chess Promotions, 1993.

Three on pawns

Flear, Glenn. Improve Your Endgame Play. London: Everyman Chess, 2000.

_______. Mastering the Endgame. London: Everyman Chess, 2001.

_______. Test Your Endgame Thinking. London: Everyman Chess, 2002.

Guliev, Sarhan. The Manual of Chess Endings, vol. 4 of Chess School. Moscow: Russian Chess House, 2021.

Horwitz, Bernhard, and Josef Kling. Chess Studies and Endgames, updated and ed. Carsten Hansen. Bayonne, NJ: Alexander Game Books, 2024.

Karolyi, Tibor, and Nick Aplin. Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2007.

Kasparyan, Ghenrikh M. Domination in 2,545 Endgame Studies, trans. A. Krivoviaz. Moscow: Progress Pubishers, 1980.

_______. 888 Miniature Studies. Belgrade: BeoSing, 2010.

Keres, Paul. Practical Chess Endings, with modern chess notation. London: Batsford [1974] 2018.

Lakdawala, Cyrus. Tactical Training in the Endgame. London: Gloucester Publishers, 2021.

_______, and Carsten Hansen. The Chess Wizardry of Wotawa. Bayonne, NJ: CarstenChess, 2022.

_______. Beyond Chess Basics: Endgame Planning. Bayonne, NJ: CarstenChess, 2023.

Levenfish, Grigory, and Vasily Smyslov. Rook Endings, trans. Philip J. Booth. Dallas: Chess Digest, 1971.

Matanović, Aleksandar, et al. Encyclopedia of Chess Endings, vol. 4. Belgrade: Chess Informant, 1989.

Mednis, Edmar. Practical Rook Endings. Coraopolis, PA: Chess Enterprises, 1982.

_______. Practical Knight Endings. Moon Township, PA: Chess Enterprises, 1993.

Mieses, Jacques. Modern Endgame Studies: Selected for the Purpose of Practical Play, trans., updated, and ed. by Carsten Hansen. Bayonne, NJ: Alexander Game Books, 2023.

Minev, Nikolay. A Practical Guide to Rook Endgames. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2004.

Mūller, Karsten, and Frank Lamprecht. Fundamental Chess Endings: A New Endgame Encyclopedia for the 21st Century. London: Gambit Publications, 2001.

Nunn, John. Nunn’s Chess Endings, 2 vols. London: Gambit Publications, 2010.

Pandolfini, Bruce. Pandolfini’s Endgame Course. New York: Fireside, 1988.

Polgár, László. Chess Endgames. Köln: Könemann, 1999.

Rabinovich, Ilya. The Russian Endgame Handbook, trans. James Marfia. Newton Highlands, MA: Mongoose Press, 2012.

Roycraft, A. J. The Chess Endgame Study: A Comprehensive Introduction, 2nd ed. Garden City: Dover, 1981.

Shankland, Sam. Small Steps to Giant Improvement: Master Pawn Play in Chess. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2018.

_______. Theoretical Rook Endgames. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2023.

Shereshevsky, Mikhail. Endgame Strategy, trans. K.P. Neat. London: Cadogan, [1985] 1994.

Silman, Jeremy. Silman’s Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. Los Angeles: Siles Press, 2007.

Speelman, Jonathan. Analysing the Endgame. London: Batsford, 1981.

_______. Endgame Preparation. London: Batsford, 1981.

Smyslov, Vasily. Vasily Smyslov: Endgame Virtuoso, trans. Ken Neat. London: Gloucester Publishers, [1977] 2003.

Van Perlo, G. C. Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics: A Comprehensive Guide to the Sunny Side of Chess Endgames, new, improved and expanded edition. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014.

Znosko-Borovsky, Eugene. How to Play Chess Endings, trans. J. Du Mont. New York: Dover, [1940] 1974.

 

 

 

 


24 March 2024

Draw?

White played 42.Kb2 and offered a draw. White's remaining time is 2:11; Black has 5:57. This is a ten minute Arena game and White is higher rated by nearly 200.

Black to move
Black is on bottom
Would you accept the draw offer? If not, what would you play?

23 March 2024

From a Youth Tournament

As tournament director for my city’s youth events, I see a lot of examples of basic skills not yet learned.

In one game today, I spent quite a bit of time watching a player with several pieces endlessly checking a lone king. The stronger side had a queen, bishop, and knight. Shortly after I began watching, he missed a mate in one. Thirty or forty checks later, his opponent captured the knight. Checks continued. Occasionally, I noticed that he seemed to be reaching for his king, but then grabbed the queen and checked again. After the bishop was captured, I began counting moves, thinking I might intervene at 50. As my counting got into the late 20s, there was a move of the king. The defending player did not try to stay in the middle of the board. When he was confined to the back rank, I could see a light come on in the mind of the player with the queen. He had some faint memory of lessons on how to checkmate with king and queen against lone king. With his opponent’s king confined to three squares on the eighth rank, he moved his king in closer. Although the king did not take the shortest route, he went in the correct direction. At the 35th move after the bishop was captured, checkmate was delivered.
Another game reached a somewhat more sophisticated ending after Black had thrown away a clear advantage.

White to move
With my phone, I took a photo of the position so that I could remember it. The young girl playing White thought for a few minutes and then played Bxf3. A few moves later, the game was drawn by insufficient material as White had only a bishop and Black only a knight.

From the diagram, I would have played Bc5. For young children, the direct attack (check, check, check,…) is easier to fathom than preventing the opponent’s plan by controlling the squares they want to use.
Another lopsided game reached this position.

White to move
White missed Qf1#, instead playing Kh3. After Kf2 and Qd1, the player of Black said that she could not find a move. After a few moments, they realized that Black was in stalemate.
The longest game was on the top board in round three. Two moves after offering a draw that was refused, Black captured White’s queen. 

White to move
Capturing with the pawn allows Ke4 and a trebuchet. White played Kxd4 and offered a draw, which was accepted.



22 March 2024

Poor Decisions

Drawing a lower rated player can be frustrating. This morning, I was forced to make my peace with such a fate. My opponent's rating was 400 below mine.

Black to move
54....Qg3+ 55.Kg1 Qe1+ 56.Kh2

I considered playing Qf1, but Black has a winning pawn ending. A draw is less damaging than a loss.

56...Qe3

Now, it is my turn to show that I can force a draw.

57.Qe8+ Kf5 58.Qd7+ Kf4??

Black made a poor decision in an effort to escape the draw.

59.Qg4#

In the very next game, my opponent was rated 200 higher than me and allowed us to reach a drawn opposite colored bishop ending. We had been shuffling our bishops about for several moves.

White to move
52.Kf2??

Inexplicable that a 2000+ rapid player would make such an error, but perhaps there was some frustration with the inevitable draw against me.

52...d3+ 53.Ke1 Ba5+ 54.Kd1 Ke3??

In my excitement, I misplayed the win. 54...Kf3 55.cxd3 e3 was the winning line.

White to move
55.c4??

55.cxd3 exd3 and neither player can make progress.

55...Kd4 56.c5 e3

A moment's calculation assured me that I would be promoting a pawn with check before White's c-pawn went very far.

57.b6 e2+ 58.Kc1 e1Q+

My opponent played until checkmate.

Today, I was the beneficiary of some poor decisions by my opponents. Another day, I will be giving such gifts to my opponents.



13 March 2024

Vulnerable King

An entertaining game from P. H. Clarke, 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures (1963) offers a lesson in vulnerability. White’s king appears more exposed, but Black’s king is in mortal danger on its starting square.

Black to move
The game is Barshauskas — Chesnauskas, Championship of Lithuania 1955. Black’s problems stem from the greater mobility and coordination of White’s forces. As Clarke notes, “It is worth remarking that while the position of the Black king in the centre is of the utmost import, the comparatively exposed state (i.e. to the normal castled position) of the White monarch is of lesser significance. The reason lies, of course, in White’s lead in development” (31).

The game continued 17…Bc5
Clarke notes that 17…Be7 would at least “admit the danger”.
18.Nxe6?
18.Bxe6 Bxe6 19.Nxe6 maintains the advantage.
18…Bxe6 19.Bxe6

Black to move
What would you play as Black? After making the wrong choice, Black resigned four moves later.



05 March 2024

Tactics Binge

This morning I became obsessed with solving puzzles on chess.com. For some of them, I spent a few minutes calculating. For others, I moved almost instantly, believing the puzzle was simple pattern recognition. Errors were frequent. When I failed a puzzle, I tried again, working it until I found the answer. One puzzle was ridiculously easy. As it came after failing four of the previous five, I had the sense that the site’s programming is designed to poke fun at me.

White to move
At this point, I had solved six correctly and failed eight. My tactics rating had dropped 35 points.

As the session continued, my rating kept going down, then up a bit, then down again.
When I finally quit, I had attempted 169 puzzles. My rating rose three points from 3036 to 3039. At one point, I had dropped as low as 2939.





03 March 2024

Fortress?

During a blitz game this afternoon, I constructed what I hoped was a fortress. The time control was 5 minutes plus a three second delay. I was playing on the increment with 17 seconds left for a long time. My opponent was burning time trying to find a winning idea. When he was down to 3 seconds and I still had 7, I suggested a draw. He wasn’t convinced it was a fortress, but accepted the draw.

White to move
How can White break down Black’s defense?

02 March 2024

Binges

Chess is a drug. Joseph Blackburne called it, "mental alcohol". In moderation, the game can enrich a balanced life. A well-played game offers pleasure not only during and immediately after play, but often for many years.


For long-term pleasure, for example, there is my fifth round game that led to second place in the 2012 Collyer Memorial. I was playing not to lose. My opponent took the game down a path where a draw was extremely unlikely. We both thought I was worse, but I soldiered on, playing strong moves to keep myself in the fight. Then, after spending substantial time calculating some endgame possibilities, I discovered that I had the better game (see “Pawn Wars”). This ending has become a staple in my teaching and still challenges me while examining a testing alternative that my opponent could have played. Had he played that move, my necessary response to maintain the advantage tests my calculation skills. A single error shifts the advantage to my opponent. Such is the pleasure of the game.

On the other hand, chess can become an obsession where winning is all that matters. To be pulled from the game may cause anxiety, attention impairment, headache, high blood pressure, insomnia, and other symptoms. Losing also provokes some of these symptoms. For instance, while writing this post, I had a morning where I managed to outplay an opponent 200 points higher rated, only to drop my rook unprovoked in a rook vs. bishop endgame. The likely win became a sudden loss. The very next game, I was a pawn down, but my rooks and queen were more active. Then I gave away my queen for nothing. My fury with myself suggested an elevation in blood pressure.

A chess playing binge followed and after more substandard play, I began to focus better and won a sequence of games. There was not much pleasure in the wins, but it was easier to stop playing.

Binges usually leave me tired, but so does tournament chess. Binges in search of redemption after poor play leaves me in a sour mood. My wife notices because I’m less fun to be near. Tournament chess leaves me with memories to cherish and games worthy of study.

Losing sometimes motivates me to play better, as it should. But losing can fuel obsession, and then substituting quantity for quality becomes a danger. When the play becomes a long session of just playing for wins, rather than enjoying the struggle, chess lacks the pleasure that is gained from solving problems against a difficult and talented opponent. One Friday, I was tired due to responsibilities in the first week with a new puppy. In such a state, I was playing chess online with little pleasure and much frustration. I was not well focused. It was the Friday before the Spokane Chess Club’s premier event. IM John Donaldson gave a lecture and simul that evening. I had pulled myself away from an online binge in a sour mood, but my disposition improved once I was among chess playing friends for Donaldson’s event.

During the weekend, I played in the tournament. Losing my first-round game to a much lower rated talented junior was not disheartening, even though it meant weaker opponents for the duration of the weekend and certain rating loss. The play, analysis, and camaraderie of a chess tournament lifts the spirits. My longest game was in the last round against an opponent from Tacoma. It was a battle. My play was far from perfect, but I enjoyed the struggle. Such contests are at the heart of chess’s appeal. Winning was quite satisfying, especially because of challenges my opponent threw in my way. The game lasted more than three hours and I spent another five or six analyzing the game in subsequent days.

Sometimes a string of losses is nothing but pain and obsession, especially when the first loss made clear that I am not prepared to play. For instance, I lost five of six games one night recently because I was playing late at night when I was too tired to continue my reading of Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders (1899). Moreover, I had consumed two or three glasses of Scotch. One glass never has a detrimental effect on my play. A second glass can go either way. The third should not be consumed prior to or during a chess playing session. If I recall correctly, that third glass came after some losses and after my wife retired for the evening. As the clock moved toward midnight, I was drinking Scotch without tasting it and playing chess without enjoyment.

It is better to practice moderation in chess, in drinking, and in combining the two.

Most often, my chess playing binges are in the middle of the day. I am awake, alert, and sober. Perhaps sobriety is open to question, however, because the behavior of playing one game after another without reflection is reminiscent of the way I drank beer in college, one after another until I could take no more. Then, quantity was the means to a goal: inebriation. I don’t live that way now.

The worst part of chess binges are my attitude. I regret the waste of time. I could have gone for a walk, done some chores, or read a book. I have unfinished writing projects that interest me. Frustration with my lack of self-control can lead to depression. Rating loss can provoke repetition of the behavior.

After a quarter century of online chess play, I’m coming to terms with binges as an element of my life. I am okay. Binges happen. Going forward, I will accept these moments of obsession as a by-product of my love for chess. 

When my chess obsession interferes with other aspects of life, it becomes a problem. Jenna Ostria has some useful tips for curbing this obsession. My health is my top priority. While accepting myself even when I binge, I also work to keep chess in balance with other areas of life. Each day I make time for chess, household responsibilities, and reading. My new puppy also demands attention! She also brings joy.

29 February 2024

Break the Rules!

Neil McDonald writes in Break the Rules! A Modern Look at Chess Strategy (2012), "experienced players ... tread a fine line between the moves they want to play and the moves they are compelled to play." He continues, "Rules and precepts are useful starting points, but we have to use our judgement, creativity and knowledge to find the best move and plan in the specific position in front of us." A game he employs to illustrate has White beginning the game with eight consecutive pawn moves. The game is Navara -- Shimanov, Vilnius 2010.

When I read this book last year, I was already familiar with both the concept and a different Caro-Kann game from having seen them yoked in John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess: Advances since Nimzowitsch (1998). Watson cites as an example of rule independence a game that Andy Soltis presents in The Art of Defence where Black's first ten moves included seven pawn moves. Yet, somehow I remember it as the same line presented by McDonald (maybe it, too, is in Watson's book).

After McDonald's explication, however, I began playing this line against the Caro-Kann in my online games. I've trapped several bishops when my opponent strayed from the best course. In other games, I've also sacrificed a pawn on e6 to lock in Black's dark-square bishop. These games turned out to be good preparation for a tournament game when my opponent attempted to play the Nimzo-Larsen Attack. But there was more: inspiration from a game I looked at nine years ago.

A game in Chess Informant 124 (2015) inspired me such that I have been meeting 1.b3 with 1...a5 ever since with good results. That game is Rapport -- Adly, Tsaghkadzor 2015. Sometimes I enjoy creating chaos at the board, but I always find it useful to remove my opponents from their comfort zone.

Both these games inspired and guided me during my round four game against David Griffin in the Inland Classic last weekend.

Griffin,David (1522) -- Stripes,James (1873) [A04]
Inland Classic Rathdrum (4), 25.02.2024

1.Nf3 Nc6 2.b3 a5N

A novelty inspired by Rapport -- Adly. Rapport is a devotee of 1...b3. I call this move a novelty because the position does not appear in my usual databases. However, further research shows that the move in the present position has been played 902 times on Lichess.

I did have an OTB game against Griffin Herr in 2019 that began 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 a5. Before the game, Griffin had asked me how I responded to 1.b3. I told him the truth, not knowing that we would be paired.

3.Bb2 e6 4.e3 a4
White to move
5.Be2

5.a3 seems important, as I suggested to David after the game.

5...a3

5...Nf6 6.0-0 Be7 7.d4 0-0 8.c4 d5 9.bxa4 b6 10.Nc3 Na5 0-1 (34) Shytaj,L (2459)--Ponkratov,P (2613) Riadh 2017.

6.Bc3 Nf6 7.0-0 d5=

White to move
8.Nd4

8.d4 has been popular on Lichess, where this position has occurred in 114 games. David wanted to avoid this move because his bishop's scope on the long diagonal was his intended manner of play.

8...Nxd4 9.Bxd4

9.exd4 Bd6 and I would have continued with somewhat more normal development, perhaps seeking to take advantage of the absence of White's king's knight.

9...c5 10.Be5

10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Bxf6 gxf6=
10.Bxf6 gxf6= (10...Qxf6 would be a mistake).

10...h5

I am aiming to trap the bishop. After my a-pawn push, I suspect Griffin did not assess the concrete analysis behind this move.

11.Nc3

11.h3 was David's suggestion after the game.
11.d4 is also good.

11...Nd7

We have reached the game's critical position. Both sides still have chances. After White's next move, Black gets the upper hand and carries it to the end.

White to move

12.Bg3??

12.f4! Qb6 (12...f6? 13.Bxh5+ Ke7 14.Qg4 Qa5 15.Qg6 fxe5 16.Qe8+ Kd6 and White is better) 13.Na4 Qc6 and White is slightly better.
I anticipated 12.Bb5 f6 13.Bg3 h4 with a slight edge for Black.

12...h4-+

I'm winning the bishop.

13.Bf4 g5

Here, I wrote 9/13 in the margins of my scoresheet and then went and asked the tournament director whether I had broken the rules by doing so.

14.Re1!

Perhaps David's strongest move of the game. The bishop cannot be saved, but Black might yet be punished for an inordinate number of pawn moves and a king that likely will remain in the center.

14...gxf4 15.exf4 d4 16.Nb5 Nf6

White to move

17.Bc4

17.f5 seems best and principled. Black's material advantage remains, but White has good chances to create some play in the center.

17...Qb6

Finally! After eleven pawn moves and five knight moves, I develop another piece. Already, I am looking towards some checkmate ideas.

18.Qc1

David's focus on removing my a-pawn did not help his game.

18...h3 19.g3 Qc6 20.Bf1

Forced. There cannot be very many positions in the database where Black has pawns on h3 and a3 on move 20.

Black to move

20...Bd7

I wanted to avoid White's bishop pinning my queen against my king with the knight on a3. Also, I might get an opportunity to create a bishop and queen battery along the long diagonal.

21.Nxa3 Bd6

Targeting the unprotected pawn on f4

Stronger was 21...Qf3 22.Qd1 Qxd1 23.Raxd1 Rxa3-+

22.Nc4

22.f5 Qf3

22...Bxf4 23.Ne5

23.gxf4 Rg8+ and checkmate follows.

23...Bxe5 24.Rxe5 Ng4

White to move

25.Re1

25.Qe1 is best, then 25...Qf3 26.Rxc5 Rh5! a deflection that I might have missed 27.Qe2 (27.Rxh5 Bc6 and White can only delay checkmate) 27...Qxe2 28.Bxe2 Rxc5.

25...Qf3

Bc6 will be decisive

26.Qd1? Qxf2+ 0-1

Although my play was unorthodox, it worked because David did not adapt his plans to the needs of the position. The early a5 thrust by Black is not dangerous, but it is disruptive if White does not meet it appropriately.

28 February 2024

Misses

In the Inland Classic tournament last weekend, I played reasonably well, despite giving up a 520 point upset to an underrated high school senior who has been one of the top youth players in my city since he was in elementary school. There were points where my play could be improved. The positions below highlight points when errors were made. How would you play?

1. Black to move
How should Black meet the fork threat?

Later in this same game, my round one loss, I had a clear advantage after errors on both sides. Choosing the wrong course from this position turned the game in favor of my opponent.

2. Black to move
In round two, I had a decisive advantage by move six. Nonetheless, I missed a quicker finish from the following position.

3. White to move
My round five game was a long battle and was among the last games to finish. Early in the middle game, I made a sensible move using a minute of thinking time. The position demanded more thought because another idea, which I considered briefly, was sufficiently complex that it could have offered my opponent the opportunity to go wrong.

4. White to move
Two moves later, I threw away a small advantage.

5. White to move
My error in this last diagram maintained a clear advantage, but there was a much better move.

6. White to move







27 February 2024

Ways of Reading

After finishing the process of going through every game in Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955), I was motivated to tackle another classic. Now, I am following the same process with P. H. Clarke, 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures (1963). I downloaded the PGN file from Bill Wall’s Chess Page and opened it in tChess Pro on my iPad. During my morning coffee a day or two per week, I go through a game on the iPad, sometimes several times, then I go through the game while reading Clark’s annotations. Sometimes, I then find the game on chessgames.com and drop a note there.

Clarke’s book had some competition for my attention. Bobby Fischer, My 60 Memorable Games (1969) also beckoned. Wall has a PGN for that book as well. It, too, resides on my iPad. But as I was going through Fischer — Sherwin 1957, I had a strong impulse to set a chess board on the table for the purpose of studying Fischer’s annotations in a manner that is more difficult with tChess Pro.

Working through My 60 Memorable Games will be more work, but I also think it is worth doing. Perhaps I will do a quick orientation to each game in tChess Pro, then switch to a chessboard on the table and the book for further study.

26 February 2024

Study Material

What might I gain from some focused study of the works of Aron Nimzowitsch? I’ve had My System and Chess Praxis in the old English descriptive versions since the 1990s and have dipped into them often enough to have a grasp of his central concepts. Of course, prophylaxis, blockade, pawn chains, the isolated queen pawn, and other ideas that he articulated before anyone else are found in many books today. One cannot read chess books and fail to encounter the work of Nimzowitsch.

John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy has been in my possession close to twenty years and I’ve read chunks. In fact, it was much on my mind during yesterday’s round four game, as was Neil McDonald, Break the Rules! Both Watson and McDonald present a Caro-Kann line in which White begins the game with eight pawn moves. Concrete calculation trumps general principles, Watson notes. In my game yesterday, prior to 17…Qb6, I had made 11 pawn moves and 5 knight moves. Also, I had trapped my opponent’s bishop.
Last summer, I purchased both the original edition of Raymond Keene, Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal and the somewhat newer algebraic edition. I’ve read only the first chapter. Yesterday, at the chess tournament, the new translation of Nimzowitsch’s classics was added to my book collection thanks to the generosity of IM John Donaldson attending and playing in our local tournament. He has been doing so for a quarter century and has made a habit of bringing books that he sells at bargain prices.
Perhaps the new book will end up on the shelf gathering dust. Perhaps I will make some time to study it. 

12 February 2024

Failed Twice

On Friday morning, I spent about ten minutes struggling with this chess problem, then gave up and looked at the answer in the back of the book. Friday's failure was a repeat of the same process with the same problem several months ago.

White to move and win
It was composed by Oldrich Duras and published in Deutsche Schachzeitung (October 1908), 310. The solution was published in January.

I encountered the position in Sergey Ivashchenko, The Manual of Chess Combinations, vol. 2 (2002). Reuben Fine presents it without a diagram in Basic Chess Endings (1941), 121.

While attempting to solve the puzzle, I had a faint recollection of some of the key ideas from a study by Alexey Troitzky that I had spent some time with last summer after getting a copy of Yuri Averbakh, Bishop Endings (1977). Troitzky's study also appears sans diagram in Fine, Basic Chess Endings.

White to move
I could recall the bishop maneuvers in the Troitzky study, but forgot the importance of the king's position.

In the Troitzky study, White wins with 1.Be6 Ke7 2.h6 Kf6 3.Bf5! 

I remembered this idea.

3...Kf7 4.Bh7

And this paradoxical move.

Black to move
4...Kf6 5.Kf4

This necessary move is not possible in the Duras study. The solution in Deutsche Schachzeitung (January 1909) reaches a similar position after one of the moves that fails, 1.Bc5, and the line was part of what I examined before I gave up.

Most of my effort, however, was spent trying to make 1.Bd6 work. That move was also the first one that FM Jim Maki tried when I showed him Duras's study during a youth chess tournament on Saturday. Black's drawing idea of the king taking refuge on and adjacent to the promotion square is one I learned the hard way in a tournament game a quarter century ago (see "A Memorable Lesson").

If Bd6 and Bc5 both fail, how can White win? I know now. Maybe I will remember the next time that I see this study by Duras.





01 February 2024

Maczuski -- Kolisch 1863

On Tuesday, I showed a short game to my young students that is the source for exercise 19 in Checkmates and Tactics (2019), a book that presents 150 exercises that I developed in 2006 for scholastic chess players. While doing so, my ignorance grated. I knew nothing about the players, although the name of the losing player was familiar enough that I thought I should know more.

While printing the game score before club, it surprised me that only two games played by Ladislav Maczuski appeared in ChessBase Mega (online was no different). This paltry selection was surprising particularly because the game data indicated it was part of a four game match between the players. ChessBase has 151 games played by Ignatz Kolisch, plus two consultation games. Maczuski's performance in the game against a strong master suggests that he should be better known. Kolisch was "one of the world's leading players from 1859 to 1867", according to David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (205).

It is not surprising that chessgames.com has more information than almost any where else that I searched. Edward Winter's Chess Notes is also useful. Note 2335 has an 1876 game played by Maczuski as part of a blindfold simul that does not appear in databases. Note 11728 recommends Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Ignaz Kolisch The Life and Chess Career (2015) for "a detailed discussion". Chessgames.com led me to the first publication of the game and a second the next month. ChessBase referenced David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, Vol. 1 1485-1866 (1981), which also references Schachzeitung (1864). Levy and O'Connell get the date wrong, an error carried forward in ChessBase.

I know more than I did on Tuesday and know how to learn a bit more should I manage to acquire a copy of Zavatarelli's book.

Here is the game.

Maczuski,Ladislav -- Kolisch,Ignaz [C45]
Match Kolisch--Maczuski +2-2=0 Paris (1), 03.1863

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Qh4

The fifth most popular reply wins a pawn, but often a great cost

5.Nc3

5.Nb5 is an alternative 5...Bb4+ 6.N1c3 Ba5 7.Be2 a6 (7...Qxe4? 8.Nxc7+ Kd8 9.Nxa8 Qxg2 10.Bf3+-) 

5...Bb4 6.Qd3!?

6.Be2 and 6.Ndb5 are more frequently played

Black to move

6...Nf6 7.Nxc6

Also possible: 7.Nf5 Qxe4+ 8.Qxe4+ Nxe4 9.Nxg7+ Kf8 (9...Kd8) 10.Nh5 (10.Bh6 Nxc3 11.Nf5+ Ke8 12.a3 Ba5 13.b4 Bb6) 10...Nxc3 11.Bh6+ Ke7 12.Bg7 Ne4+ 13.c3 with equal chances.

7...dxc6 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 Nxe4

9...0-0 seems prudent, but White does not yet have full compensation for the pawn with the line played.

10.Qd4

Black to move
10...Qe7

10...Bf5 has also been played here 11.Qe5+ Qe7 12.Qxe7+ Kxe7 13.Bxg7 Rhg8 14.Bd4 (14.Bh6 may be better) 14...Rad8 15.c3 c5 16.Be3 b6  and Black won in 60 moves Trabert,B (2285)--Tomescu,V (2436) Montecatini Terme 1999.

11.0-0-0 Qg5+??

A terrible blunder.

11...Nxc3 12.Qxg7 Nxa2+ 13.Kb1 Rf8 with a slight edge for Black, who went on to win in 65 moves Rizovic,S--Minic,M Vrnjacka Banja 2006.

White to move
This position could make a good exercise.

12.f4! Qxf4+

Black could also play 12...Qe7, but the game is lost in any case.

13.Bd2 Qg4

13...Qh4 14.Re1 0-0 15.Rxe4+-
13...Qf6 also prevents checkmate.

White to move
This position appears in my Checkmates and Tactics book. My students have been solving it, or failing to solve it nearly twenty years.

14.Qd8+ Kxd8 15.Bg5+

The game as it appears in La Nouvelle Régence (image above) would seem to indicate that the last move was not played.

15...Ke8 16.Rd8# 1-0








17 January 2024

Not so Easy

Yesterday, I posted a position on Facebook from a game played online. In that position, my opponent blundered and lost. But, had my opponent played differently, I would have lost. The position generated a fair amount of discussion. I am particularly grateful to three commentators--Lukas Bratcher, Chris Kalina, and Misha de Rue. All three regularly comment.

We begin eighteen moves prior to the posted diagram in order to show several missed opportunities by both contestants as they played too fast with too little analysis. I was White.

White to move
Black has captured my rook on c5. I correctly assessed that my passed c-pawn could win, but missed some of the details.

33.dxc5??

It was necessary to first divert Black's king away from my e-pawn.

33.g4+ Kg5 34.dxc5+-
33.Bd3+ Kg5 34.dxc5+-

33...Kxe5-/+

Now, Black has an edge.

34.b4 g5 35.Bf3 f6 36.Bh5 h6 37.Be8 f5?

37...d4+ 38.Kd2-/+

38.Bc6

38.c6 d4+ 39.Kd2 Kd5 40.Ke2-/= Black is slightly better, but it is unclear how to make progress due to the c-pawn threatening to advance.

38...Bc8 39.Be8 f4+

39...d4+-/+

40.gxf4+ gxf4+ 41.Kf3= d4

White to move

42.Bg6??

I may have been overconfident, thinking I was better. Or, I may have believed that my bishop was needed for defense.

42.c6=

42...Bb7+ Black has the edge, but there was a stronger move.

42...Bd7-+

43.Kf2 f3 44.Bh5

Black to move

44...Kf4

44...d3 is the only move that clearly maintains Black's advantage 45.Ke3 f2 46.Kxf2 Kd4-+

45.Be8 Ke4??

45...d3=

46.Bg6+??

46.c6+-

46...Kf4= 47.Bd3??

47.Be8=

47...h5

Black missed another opportunity to put White away.

47...Be4 48.Bxe4 Kxe4 49.c6 d3 50.c7 d2 51.c8Q d1Q oh boy! White hopes to draw with perpetual checks, but Black's king can hide among the forest of pawns on the queenside.

48.Bg6 h4 49.h3

49.Be8 (only move) holds out some hope of equality, but Black remains better.

49...Ke5-+

49...Bc8-+

50.Be8 d3 51.c6

The position I posted on Facebook

Black to move

51...Bxc6??

The losing move, also suggested by a Facebook member. If Black considered the consequences of this move, he may have thought to saddle me with an unpromotable h-pawn (wrong bishop does not control h8). 

51...Ba8-/+ Black retains an edge.
51...Bc8! and Black will win. 52.Kxf3 (52.Bd7 d2 "Black wins the race." Chris Kalina)

Black to move
Analysis diagram after 51...Bc8 52.Kxf3
52...Bxh3

(Misha de Rue pointed out other ways for Black to win from this position: 52...Kd4 53.Kf2 Kc3 54.Bh5 Kc2 [or 54...d2; or 54...Bxh3] )

53.Bd7 was suggested with the belief that Black blundered in taking the h-pawn. 53...d2 54.Ke2 Be6!

White to move
Analysis diagram after 54...Be6!

I think this move solves the problems perceived in the analysis that saw 52...Bxh3 as an error.

51...d2 was also suggested, but 52.cxb7 d1Q 53.b8Q+ with an extra bishop and an exposed Black king, White should win easily. 53...Ke6 54.Qb6+ Ke7 (54...Qd6 55.Qxd6+ Kxd6 56.Kxf3+-) 55.Qe3+ Kf8 56.Bg6+-.

52.Bxc6+-

Black to move

52...Kd4 53.Bxf3 Kc3 54.Ke3 Kb2 55.Kxd3 Kxa3 56.Kc3

Here my opponent thought for a full minute. I suspect it is now dawning upon him that the game is lost.

56...a5 57.bxa5 b4+ 58.Kd2 b3 59.a6

White won by resignation 1-0

Both my opponent and I have some things that we can learn from how we played this ending.